Mastering the Art of Composition

Mastering the Art of Composition

Contributed by Neleisha Weerasinghe.

Arrangement of objects whether it be a photograph, design or a painting is integral to its success. Objects that are meant to be seen need to be arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner and therefore in composition you need to pay careful attention to lines, shapes , colour form and negative space to name a few.

Some may think that a good composition is not always required or in abstract painting you can omit it completely. This is not true because even if you are doing abstract work or following realism, you need to follow some rules of composition. If you get it right you will be able to draw the viewer’s attention to the painting or photograph more fully.

The main components of composition

Most often a painter, artist or photographer will attempt to organise the elements in the visual plain in a pleasing manner. This will allow for a structured approach to be taken for the painting process. It also helps the artist to draw the attention of the viewer to the whole image before them and help them enjoy the whole piece better.

The rule of thirds

This is one important aspect when it comes to getting your compositions right. It is a mathematical form of arranging you subject matter. It is also one of the most fundamental forms of structuring your artwork or photography in a more dynamic way. The method suggests that you can get a more aesthetically pleasing creation when you organise your content on imaginary lines that go horizontally and vertically. It is also a simplified form of the golden ratio.

Of course this does not mean that you have to be strict at aligning everything according to this grid. It should only be used as a rough guide to organise your content. What is important is to remember not to add your main subject right in the middle of the painting space. In photography it helps if you picture the subject from an angle rather than directly in front of it. In modern art many would attempt to disregard this rule altogether, however it all comes down to what you hope to achieve by the painting or the photograph and the mood you want to create. So if the rule of thirds helps you in creating a better composition to achieve your goal then go ahead and use it, if not there is no harm in disregarding it as well.

Mastering the Art of Composition

Tips for good composition

Having an understanding of the visual elements of colour, texture, shapes and lines is important in getting a good composition right so let’s look at how these can be manipulated to help achieve a good composition.

  • Keep things simple: When you paint, one of the most essential things to remember is to keep things simple. If you look at the works of the masters you will notice how simplified the subjects were. This allowed them to highlight some of the important aspects of their subjects. So how do you simplify your work? Some suggestions are to reduce the detailing, use a limited color palette, using larger strokes and removing some unwanted subjects from the painting.  
  • Not too symmetrical: it is also a good idea to have asymmetry in your art work. For an example if you are painting a scene with people. Rather than having two individuals it is a good idea to have three figures. And do not divide the scene in to exact halves which will look unnatural or staged.
  • Triangles: when you analyse a lot of paintings of the masters you will notice how they use the geometric shape of a triangle to layout their subjects. It is said that to get an aesthetically beautiful image the objects should be arranged in a triangular manner.
Mastering the Art of Composition


These are just a few tips and methods of creating a good composition. There are many more such as organising them in an L shape or changing your focus so that you look a subject from above or below. The list goes on so it helps to explore a few of them in your next project. Understanding these rules are important in creating a successful composition but as with anything else some rules can be bent so do not let them limit your creative potential but rather use them as guides to creating better artwork.